Need for jail expansion questioned

April 22, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

State officials have agreed to give Carroll County more money to expand its jail, but one county commissioner said yesterday a new home detention program may eliminate the need for an expansion now.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said a home detention program might remove enough prisoners from the jail that the planned 18,000-square-foot addition might not be needed now.

The other two commissioners, Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy, disagreed with Mr. Dell. But all three said yesterday they plan to study whether the county could save money by using modular cells for the expansion instead of building an addition.

"If we get 25 to 30 people out of that jail, I'm not sure we need it [the expansion] now," Mr. Dell said.

Col. Charles F. Fowler of the sheriff's department said that probably only eight to 10 people would participate in the home detention program at one time.

Mr. Lippy said he thinks the jail expansion is needed, but modular cells might be a cheaper alternative. The home detention program should be started, he said.

Mrs. Gouge said the modular cell idea should be studied, but the expansion project should not be delayed.

"This has already been a long process," she said, and the county should mix "common sense with money sense."

Work on the project, which would take about a year, was scheduled to begin this spring at the earliest.

Sheriff John H. Brown contends that the jail expansion is "desperately needed."

A home detention program has been touted as a way to ease crowding in the 120-bed jail, which has housed as many as 138 prisoners. Home detention would be an option only for nonviolent offenders.

The sheriff successfully lobbied the Maryland General Assembly this year for permission to start such a program in Carroll, and county officials have met with at least one company that could set up a program.

The county has planned to add 80 beds to the jail over about three years. In January, 16 companies interested in doing the work submitted bids, but every bid was about $1 million higher than expected. County officials had estimated the cost of the project at about $2.2 million, including renovations to the current jail.

Bids for the project ranged from $3,083,000 to $3,590,000.

Tom Rio, chief of the county's Bureau of Building Construction, said he isn't sure why the bids were so much higher than the estimates.

He said the difference probably occurred because of a combination of factors: the mechanical and electrical portions of the bids were high; the architect who designed the project was off in his estimates; and contractors may have adjusted their estimates because of rumors that suppliers and vendors would increase their prices as the recession eases.

The county asked the state for more money for the project because all the bids were so high, Mr. Rio said. The state is paying for 53.45 percent of the project, and the county is paying the rest.

The state will contribute $1,817,000 for the jail expansion, said Marsha S. Herr, a capital budget analyst in the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning.

State officials set aside $1,181,000 in the current fiscal year for the project, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer included $636,000 for it in next fiscal year's capital budget, she said.

Carroll's share for the expansion will be $1,512,000, Mr. Rio said.

The county and the state already have split the $130,000 design cost for the expansion, he said.

Modular cells are prebuilt units.

The commissioners said they were contacted by a salesman from a Louisiana company that makes the cells and have asked him for price estimates.

The cells could "be spread out or stacked up" and could be installed faster than an addition could be built, Mr. Dell said.

Mr. Rio said modular cells could be an option, but renovations to the current jail still are needed.

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